The rich history and culture of national parks and monuments in the Four Corners is the focus of a new exhibit at the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College.
In addition to highlighting the history of the National Park Service as it celebrates its 100th year, the recently opened exhibition includes a look at the people attracted to these sites and the souvenirs they took home in the form of photographs, postcards and an eclectic assortment of novelty items targeted at tourists, said Julie Tapley-Booth, business and public relations manager for the center.
“It’s not just focusing on the artifact collection, but we’re drawing from our archives and our library,” said Shelby Tisdale, director of the center. “It makes it a little more unique.”
The exhibit, titled “Parks, People, Preservation: Celebrating the National Park Service in the Southwest,” was motivated by a partnership between the center and Mesa Verde National Park, and grew to be more encompassing of the history of the Southwest, Tisdale said.
That allows for more of the center’s collection to be displayed.
In total, “Parks, People, Preservation” examines 55 sites, including 13 national parks and 42 monuments, historical and heritage sites, Tisdale said.
“We thought we’re in such a rich area, not just of parks but of archaeological ruins and ancestral sites and natural parks, that instead of focusing on just one, we would broaden our scope and focus on all the Four Corner states and look at all the wonderful parks and monuments and historic sites that we have,” Tisdale said.
“This area is really unique. We have some of the premiere archaeological sites, really in the world, located in this section of the country, and by preserving those we allow people to see them. We allow people to study them, to gain more insight into the cultures that were here, not only the Native Americans but everybody that’s come through,” said Cristy Brown, public information officer for Mesa Verde.
The exhibit aims to capture this rich history by looking beyond the sites and examining the people who historically inhabited these areas, the individuals who were instrumental in the establishment of the parks and issues faced by the modern Park Service as it celebrates its centennial, Tisdale said.
One notable item drawn from the center’s library is a copy of The Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde by Gustaf Nordenskiöld, which represents the first scholarly analysis of these ancestral Puebloan ruins.
Also included in the collection are photographs of sites around the Southwest taken by William Pennington and Lisle Updike, who once operated a photography studio in Durango, she said. “These are just beautiful, beautiful photographs, and they all date from the early 20th century.”
Private donors such as Nina Heald Webber of Florida, who donated more than 3,000 postcards to the center, have been important in compiling items for display at the new exhibit, Tisdale said. “She has helped us to really put together quite an extensive collection of not just postcards but a lot of different kinds of memorabilia.”
Some of these postcards offer a different look into the history of the parks and monuments stemming from personal messages written on them by their original owners, she said. “Some of the messages are just so interesting. Some are ‘having great time,’ that’s it. Some others it’s like a life story on these postcards which makes them so fascinating.”
Tisdale hopes this exhibit will remind people of the richness of public lands in the Four Corners states and inspire them to get out and experience some of the space set aside for public enjoyment in the West, she said.
This sentiment was echoed by Brown.
“It reminds people that we’re still here, and it encourages them to come back and see us again,” Brown said.
This exhibit is free to the public and will be open through Dec. 6. The summer hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Luke Perkins is a student at Fort Lewis College and an intern at The Durango Herald. He can be reached at [email protected]